Here’s something that I’m thinking/learning about for past one month. It began as a simple question that many people legitimately ask, and one that I have asked myself many-a-times. The question is this: Why did God allow the devil to do as he wished with Job. Why did Job suffer? I’d like to share my thoughts on the subject.
The book of Job is one of the oldest books in the bible. What it means is, a large part of a book that we call “Bible” today, wasn’t written. Maybe it was written in the same time as when Moses lived… I don’t know. “Scholars” haven’t made up their minds yet, and their opinions range from 2000 BC to 400 BC. (and even if they do, we still can’t be sure…). But one thing is certainly obvious, they didn’t have the new testament when it was written. So, that’s the background. How is it important? I’ll deal with it later.
Now, onto the actual content. The book of Job starts with a strange development. One day, all the sons of God (AKA Angels) came to present themselves before the Lord. Mr. Devil, who formerly was the Archangel and now had made it his business to tempt and torment anyone and everyone he can, also decided to join the event. He had just returned from “going to and fro on the earth” (as he always does), and God asked him where he came from. He answers. Let’s look at the passage that follows:
And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (ESV Job 1:8-12)
What follows is this: Mr. Devil goes out and destroys every bit of Job’s property, kills all his sons and daughters and tries everything he can to make Job sin before God. He doesn’t. So, another similar episode follows and this time God permits devil to do anything he wanted to do with Job except to kill him. So, Mr. Devil goes and does his best. He makes Job terribly sick and uses his wife and his friends trying to make Job sin.
What follows out of this whole incident is, chapters after chapters of arguments between Job and his friends, Job’s struggle to understand his sufferings, descriptions of God’s righteousness, sovereignty and his power, the wonders of this world and a glimpse of the glory of the Redeemer. It’s a treasure filled with gems.
The trail of clues
The absolute magnificence of the book of Job is only matched by tremendous hardships Job goes through during the course of this book. And I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection between the two. Because, I do not believe in coincidences. I do not believe in luck. I believe in a God who is sovereign. I believe there is a purpose for everything (and I mean, everything) that happens in the life of a God’s servant. But that isn’t the only reason that compels me to think that there is a connection between these two things.
The main reason, which doesn’t make sense until it does, is, God’s way of doing things. God always does things in a way that can never occur to anyone other than God. Indeed his ways are higher than our own. He is the master of doing the unthinkable. When he chose his disciples, he didn’t choose the scholars or the priests. He chose fisherman because he wanted to make them “fishers of men!”. When he wanted a messenger for gentiles, he didn’t choose a well known apostle, he chose Soul who was a persecutor of the church and later became Paul who wrote one third of the new testament. And when he decided to save the human race, he didn’t storm the earth with heavenly armies. He took up the cross, and when he himself was hanging on that cross, which was the symbol of hopelessness and death, he became the ultimate hope of mankind. Through that cross, he paved the way to everlasting life. And these are just some of the examples… However, it does illustrate fairly well why he is called “God”.
The problem of misconceptions
So, taking that as a preface, I’d try to explain why Job suffered. But that presumes that there is a need of an explanation. So, before I go on answering questions, first, let me establish the questions. The explanation is required because, on the surface it looks like Job suffered without any reason. He was a righteous man and didn’t commit any crimes worthy of such a punishment. Furthermore, it looks like God was tempted by the Devil. Consider the dialogue between God and the devil in the first chapter. God asks devil if he had considered Job. Devil says “Yes, but it isn’t for no reason that he fears God and hates evil. It’s because you have kept him safe and has blessed him. Take that away and see what happens.” At which point, if we take away the “majestic English words”, and paraphrase it into current slang, God says something like, “Oh yeah? Fine. Do whatever you like. Erm… just don’t kill him.”
That doesn’t sound much like what would come out of the mouth of Gods that are popularized by the current media. The Gods of our age, which are influenced by the fancies of modern day writers and make their homes into the comic books and the television screens, would do something like, “And God took his hammer and smote the devil. The devil couldn’t open his mouth after that. Job lived happily ever after”. Thank God that God is not like that. Because that would get boring after a while. However, one can not deny that it does seem like that God was tempted.
What? Did I just say that it seems like God was tempted? Cross that. God can never be tempted. There must be another explanation. And I think there is. OK. Here’s the explanation: God. Doesn’t ring a bell? Neither did it for me at first. Thing is, we use the word God so often, we don’t even think about what the word means. I think neither of the two conceptions of God, the one who was tempted or the one who is a celestial brute who smashes anything that he doesn’t like, is true. Let’s think about it what the word God means. The first three things that come in my mind is, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. I’d like to focus on that last word. God is omniscient. It means God knows everything. If we take that little characteristic of God into account, the air of the whole event in the upper firmament of heaven changes. Here’s a being who knows everything talking with a being who doesn’t know everything. Asking questions. Giving examples of right conduct. God says about Job: “A blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil”.
If we really think about it, such a statement made by an omniscient being, certainly, can’t mean “You see that fellow Job there? He’s blameless and upright. He’s been good so far, though I can’t vouch for him tomorrow. Who knows what he might do tomorrow?” Certainly God can’t mean that. It’s much more logical to assume that God meant, “He’s an blameless and upright man. I’ve seen his future. He fears God and turns away from evil every time.” But the problem was, the poor Mr. Devil just couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that God knew everything and his attempts to make Job sin would be futile. No matter what trick Mr. Devil played, he was hopelessly outmatched. There never was a possibility of Job sinning and God loosing him. Job was always secure in God’s arms.
That’s a little bit comforting to know that Job’s life was always secure. However, that still doesn’t answer the question, why did Job suffer? Once again, let’s go back where it all began. It began when God asked a question. God initiated the conversation. When that question was answered, it was God who drew the attention to Job. God initiated the turn of events which resulted in the suffering of Job. The God who is omniscient and is loving enough to go to such a length as to carry the cross for a people who were against him, certainly wouldn’t let a man who loves God suffer for no reason.
Folks, there is only one logical conclusion. There was a reason behind Job’s suffering. And I think, part of the reason was you and I. Remember I said earlier that there seems to be a link between the intensity of the suffering of Job and the magnificence of the book? Well, there is an obvious link. One is a direct consequence of another. If he didn’t suffer as much as he did, maybe he wouldn’t be as puzzled as he was, maybe his friends didn’t come to visit him because it was nothing serious. Maybe there wouldn’t have been any argument at all. And maybe, God himself wouldn’t have come to shed some divine light on the matter. So, I think that the reason was that there was a need for him to suffer to bring about other good things.
Also, remember in the beginning I said when the book of Job was written, the new testament wasn’t written? Well, in that time, when God hadn’t fully revealed himself to the world in his son Jesus Christ, the descriptions of God’s righteousness in the book of Job would be priceless. So, in his time, Job was an instrument for God to express his character to the whole world. However, now that God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ, does that mean the book of Job is irrelevant now? I don’t think so. If it were so, it wouldn’t be the part of the bible. The book still points to Jesus as every other old testament book does. Also, it has a purpose of teaching the grand lesson that we are learning right now. The lesson is this: The suffering of God’s people is an expression of God’s love to the people who doesn’t know him.
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me”. I suggest, the suffering that Job endured was his cross to bear. So that the people who were far from God, can get closer to him. That certainly happened for his three friends. They understood where they were wrong, and through Job’s prayer, they were accepted before God. God used Job’s suffering as a means to expressing himself to those who didn’t knew him. Job suffered because God loved not only Job, but also his friends. He suffered because God loved you and me.
So, if there is any grand conclusion to draw from all this, it must be what I have stated earlier: The suffering of God’s people is an expression of his love towards those who don’t know him. If you are a follower of Christ, it’s certain that you will suffer. It might be anything, and it wouldn’t make sense when you are going through it. Just as it didn’t for Job. But one thing is certain, you are not alone in your troubles. And it certainly wouldn’t be for no reason. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” So, once you’ve been through the hard times, when you look back, you wouldn’t find the heinous picture of your suffering, you will find the masterful strokes of the brush of the almighty. Full of grace and glory.
And what fills me with awe and wonder in my inner being are a few lines spoken by Job about Jesus in the midst of his suffering. For who can ever think that a man in such a state as of Job’s, at the height of his hopelessness, can muster enough excitement to say what he did say about a person that he never saw?
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)